I’ve got a row of arborvitae and one is looking a bit half-dead. Does this guy have a chance? Or should I dig him out and replace him?

I’ve only been in this house one growing season, so I have only just fertilized it, kept it watered and stabilized the plants by tying them to the fence for support. This is in Minnesota, they get full sun during the day, and the soil is rather clay-like. (And yea, they had a bit of snow damage due to the last heavy snowfall so their shape is still coming back)

arborvitae hedge diagram of yard

  • Great sketch...let me work on this and do my other nightly stuff and we'll continue tomorrow? Good job! Skc! What are the views like from the other sightlines other than this one from the north? How often do you use that patio that is not connected to your home? Any other spaces you need privacy?
    – stormy
    Apr 30, 2018 at 2:27
  • Only the north and north east views have the apt buildings. The neighbors to the south are all 1.5-2 story homes. Some of their upper level windows would be good to have a slight screen from. Which is why I’m thinking of planting a birth along the south fence. The trees noted on the south side of the yard in the sketch are only my ideas. Nothing planted yet besides the arborvitae and the oak tree.
    – Skc45x
    Apr 30, 2018 at 2:32
  • And yes, feel free to ping me whenever! Thanks for your good ideas!
    – Skc45x
    Apr 30, 2018 at 2:33

2 Answers 2


First, supporting plants actually makes them weaker. Think of a cast on your arm. Think about the atrophy when you finally take it off.

I would remove the supports for sure. Trying to see some scale in sizes here; are these plants 4' high or 6 ' high...I am very bad with metrics...??

A good point is that whoever planted these plants did a wonderful job by offsetting two lines. You will probably pull that one arborvitae...yet it will be barely noticeable. If I am understanding the scale correctly, it looks like each shrub was planted too closely to its neighbors. I am still not sure I understand the photo clearly but pulling this dying plant will surely help the look and health of the hedge itself.

Are there two lines of arborvitaes? The back one older than the front line?

What is the distance between plants?

How long ago did you fertilize and what was the product formulation?

I am also seeing a couple of other things in this photo; you've got some critter that is eating your arborvitae and I think I know who! A RABBIT. Not going to hurt unless the bunnies get so hungry they begin to eat the bark to get at the cambium beneath for calories.

Also, the soil and mulch are touching the bottom of this fence. Lovely fence but will need replacing soon if that moisture holding soil and mulch aren't removed from the wood.

We'll wait for a reply...your little arborvitae may have had its vascular system damaged by gnawing of rabbits..it is younger and more 'tender' after all than the others.

'Clay' soil has gotten such a bad rap but I have to insert some endorsement...it is wonderful soil. If you have clay soils you just need to know the management techniques. All soils are wonderful soils. The only way to amend any soil ANY soil type is to add decomposed organic matter right on the surface. All other methods are contraindicated. Talk about a lazy gardener's dream!

EDIT: Just allowing your shrubs to grow without supports will allow your plants to grow straighter and stronger...that is what they want to do normally to get their foliage closer to the light. Not only straighter but with deeper thicker roots for support and thicker bark, thicker caliper of trunks and better more vigorous growth. Those supports are bad. I only use staking for mature trees that have blown over. Otherwise pruning and shaping and twine will solve your problems.

Pruning we need to discuss as that takes more explanation... but simply cutting off the edges of the top so that the entire shrub angles upward, like a bullet, not a bollard? All hedges need wider bases than the top. Wrapping a simple line of twine (green?) from the base to the top before winter will protect your plants from snow. A spiral of twine, not as tight as they do with Christmas trees for transport? We did this with 20 foot, 6 foot wide arborvitaes...not hard to do at all for a maintenance company with ladders and insurance. To replace one of those guys was not an option.

We can discuss pruning; think about removing the weight from the end of a branch or branches. That release of weight usually pops those branches back into place.

This is an idea I've used an awful lot for a screen. In the second picture do you 'see' the garbage? Your eye stops at the screen yet wind is able to flow through and your feeling of space is not compromised. And great for vines. The squares add solidity and allowing the wood to gray melds the architecture to the landscape.

Screen fencing[![screen fencing of neighbor's garbage[![screen to break up the edges of the 'catbox']2]3

Screen type fence panels

Screen for neighbor's garbage and division and privacy

My back yard with screens; later?

  • Do you have any tips on getting the plants to grow straight? If I remove supports their shoots fall apart and the whole plant leans away from the fence a bit. There is only one row of arborvitae, and they are pretty close together, about three feet apart. The plants are around 8 feet tall. The little guy that’s struggling has been growing slower and is about 6 feet tall. As for fertilizing, I just used “evergreen spikes” from menards and put one between each plant about a month ago and again in the spring last year.
    – Skc45x
    Apr 29, 2018 at 23:17
  • Excellent on the fertilizer. No problems there. 8 feet? I would top those at 6 feet unless you need the extra height for neighbor's windows? I need to know the distance between plants in the back row, the distance between the front row and the back row. Is that fence 6' then? What is directly behind that fence? You've probably enhanced the health of this hedge because of your fertilizing...that little guy should just be popped out. We could do a bit of surgery for autopsy...grins to rule out phytophthora
    – stormy
    Apr 29, 2018 at 23:54
  • There’s only one row of arborvitae, the other side of the fence has ground cover and small flowers. Except towards the right end of the fence, the neighbors have a maple tree. Those tree branches you are seeing in the pic behind the arborvitae are tall mature trees two lots over. I’m hoping to grow these arborvitae as tall as I can to create privacy from the apartment building you see in the picture. Any tips on growing them tall? Looks like I’ll replace that scraggly one with a new one, based on your suggestions.
    – Skc45x
    Apr 30, 2018 at 0:19
  • Why am I seeing an arborvitae behind the scraggly one? Only ONE row? Before you buy another arborvitae we need to be sure this isn't a disease...such as phytophthora. Slicing branches between dead and live material will clearly show this disease. Do this first. I can truly see reason for growth height! There are far better and faster solutions if you are interested concerning privacy that will enhance the value of your property, immediately. Another question for later... I thought there were two lines of shrubs, offset. Oh well.
    – stormy
    Apr 30, 2018 at 0:36

Replace it.

You can go for some other arbotvitae since you can't match exactly surrounding healthy ones. Arborvitae Blue haven, for example, would make your hedge more interesting - and you can plant it slightly off, closer to the center of the yard

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.